Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Ballad of Tunnock and Lees: Excerpt from Walking The Doggerel, available now!

New collection of song lyrics and poems from The Malt and Barley Revue, The Fairly Good Show, My Bad Gospel and Scar Quilse's Referendum Songbook. A fiver or so in paperback.


The Ballad of Mr Tunnock and Mr Lee

I’ve lost faith in beer and wine
No nicotine for quite some time
Facebook and Twitter - just boring me
All I want is Tunnocks and Lees
When life seems hard, when things get squalid
Just give me sugar and cocoa solids
The products I know will scratch that itch
They come from Uddingston, they come from Coatbridge

Mr Tunnock, Mr Lee
The pleasure you have given me
I gave you my molars and my wealth
But I would sacrifice my health
Mr Tunnock, Mr Lee

You will always be in my dreams
Teacakes, Snowballs, Wafer Creams
Some swear by Cadbury, by Frys or Mars
No Quaker could create the Macaroon Bar

Sometimes sugar just will not suffice
There are other passports to paradise
You must taste and try before you die
The products of Mr Whyte and Mr Mackay

But tastes expand, you crave variety
Then Elgin City is the place to be
116 years of whisky for sale

At Mr Gordon’s and Mr Macphail’s

Thursday, 4 December 2014

New Scottish drink-driving limit: how not to fall foul

Rules for drinking and driving. Just the one. Just the one rule, that is:

 If you’re driving, do not drink anything alcoholic. At all.

Some doctors of my acquaintance used to talk about ‘New Zealand rules’  - which, incidentally, I’ve never been able to track down - guidelines allegedly aimed at rural doctors who faced constant sobriety while socialising due to public transport being unavailable. The deal was that it takes approximately one hour to metabolise one unit of alcohol. So you gauge your drinking over an evening to leave you under the driving limit by the time you get in the car.

This is bullshit. Here are a couple of reasons. 



First, the notion of ‘a unit’ when you’re drinking delicious craft beers of anything between 5 and  10 per cent alcohol, or malt whiskies ranging from 40 to 57.9 per cent. How do you assess the number of units, especially when you’re being served varying quantities? One small (330ml) bottle of Duvel Golden Ale, 8.5 per cent, contains 2.81 units. But the delivery mechanism (fizzy, delicious, and it’s beer, award-winning ‘World’s best’ beer) means three will put you on your back and deliver the worst hangover in the world, too. Believe me, I know. Not for nothing is it called The Devil. Made by Monks, too, Belgian ones. They’re experts in brewing. And in demonology.

Second, people, and drinking conditions, vary. Different body weights, different degrees of liver capacity/damage, different amounts/types of food consumed, even different times of day - all can change the way alcohol works on your system. I haven’t drunk at lunchtime for years - until a rural Shetland occasion a few months ago when I had a single, small glass of wine with a salad, leaving me well within driving limits but almost comatose.

Third, alcohol is not some magic potion that makes you a better driver. Why imagine that it is? Unless you seriously can’t do without it, in which case you have a problem. Nor, for that matter, does it make you a better conversationalist, or even more relaxed and more adept at social interraction. You don’t need a ‘digestif’ to make that meal go down. Lacking one glass of red wine is not going to mean you will have a heart attack. Take a soluble aspirin instead. Yum!

If you work for Network Rail, you're subject to random breath tests at all times. The limit for all employees is not 80 mg, not 50, but 29 mg per 100 millilitres of blood. In Northern Ireland, legislation is pending to bring in a 50 mg limit, like Scotland, but in addition just 20 mg, which basically means nothing, for the recently qualified (up to two years) and professionals such as lorry or taxi drivers. 

I think that lower limit sends a more precise and better message: 

Do not drink and drive. At all.

One more thing. “I think I’ll leave the car.” Fair enough. You have that great sense of relief that you can now get absolutely guttered without worrying about anything but the taxi fare home and remembering where you parked. When you come back to get the car next...when?

Because a full-on binge (and this is Scotland, come on, that’s what we do. We like our moods to be well and truly altered) will not leave you with the ability to count up your units with any accuracy. ‘Proper’, especially wedding, party or seasonal drinking, will leave you over the limit the next day. Definitely. It’s not even a question of when, next day, your blood alcohol dips below the legal limit. It’s when you’re sober, as opposed to thinking you’re sober.

My informal  rule, and take it from One Who Binges, or at least Has Frequently Binged? 

Heavy drinking session, leave a 24 hour gap before driving. Or broadcasting. Or operating a chainsaw.

I mean, this isn’t for a laugh. This isn’t waking up on the couch at noon, gazing out the open door to the car, sitting in the street with the engine running and the driver’s door open, wondering ruefully how on earth you got home.  This isn’t even about health. It’s about not killing yourself and, more important, not killing other people.

So if you’re going to drink, take it seriously. I like that Innes and Gunn advert - ‘make it Innes and None’ . Brave of them. Though not a problem for me, as I’ve always found their beers, far, far too sweet. And strong.

To be honest, I’d much rather have a Duvel...


Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Sunset lunch! Frankie's, 2.00PM, and the batter's better

I've kind of lost touch with the mesmerising number of awards Frankie's, our local chip shop, has won, is in for, almost won or is in the process of winning. But there are loads. Despite the fact that I am fairly bamboozled by the variety of 'best fish and chip shop' competitions it would appear you can enter (and I presume there are all sorts of professional bodies to join and entry fees to pay) there is no question that Frankie's is among the best in the UK, and we're very lucky to have it. Well, 10 miles or so away, in Brae. You want carefully-sourced local fish, cooked from fresh? Come to Shetland.

Now, one of my issues with Frankie's is just that: being 10 miles away. So that any carry-out, even transported home at top (safe) speed, is going to be just slightly too cool for ideal consumption. Fish and chips should be eaten  sizzlingly fresh. And therefore, if we can, we 'eat in' at Frankie's, which opens up the possibilities of its 'catch of the day' menu and, err...puddings.

So yesterday, we headed down for a late (2.00pm, the sun just setting over Muckle Roe) lunch (booking a table; this is a very busy place, though as it happens there was plenty of room). The 'specials' menu included home-made fish cakes, langoustine tails in batter, and pan-fried scallops in Cointreau and fennel (£15 with chips). The mussels menu has been up and running for a while (Blueshell locally-farmed mussels, same as in London chain Belgo, recipes from Mussel Inn, Glasgow) but we were in the mood for frying. Susan had the langoustines, I had the 'Muckle Haddock' In batter. Chips, of course.

Now, we have eaten in Frankie's a lot. It's always been good. If I've ever had a slight quibble, it was that an occasional heaviness crept into the fish and the chips, which I put down to batter recipe and possibly the new-fangled oil-recycling super-efficient ecotastic fryers. I'm an industrial west of Scotland guy with a taste for lard that's been superheated all weekend and used for deep frying pizzas and black puddings. Whatever has happened, if anything, yesterday's food seemed on a different level. Everything, chips, prawns, fish, appeared lighter, crispier (and not brown and over-fried either). There was an almost tempura-like texture to the batter.

Maybe we were just very hungry. But for the first time at Frankie's I had a sweet - sharing a sticky toffee pudding and ice cream with Susan. Home made and delicious. Hey, half each! Moderation!

The coffee has always been a slight letdown at F's. It's pre-programmed 'Cappuccino' and in a Brae of scallops in Cointreau, we should really be talking just-roasted beans and a barrister-made espresso. Or is it barista? Or if Cappuccino's too tricky, maybe a V60, Clever or Aeropress.

So, that's Frankie's. Never mind the awards. It's really very good. And that view...